Few things put a smile on my face. Yet when my vacant veneer cracks the cause is often a simple affair. Good food. Strong coffee. A shared joke. A blue sky. Simple pleasures one should not deconstruct. Add to this cycling.
I’m not talking about the epic cycling fables you read in well bound magazines with black and white images, oh no. Sometimes there’s nothing more pleasurable than a plain old “I’m just popping out” kind of ride. Such rides usually pass unnoticed. Yet sometimes the ordinary surprises.
The gears align
Upon occasion an ordinary ride astonishes you and stirs emotion of extraordinary depth. The commute home. A functional ride to the shop. A ten minute spin around the block. The moment doesn’t so much strike but seep into your conciousness.
Lucidity. Nothing exists but you and the bike. Heart, mind and soul at one. Heavy traffic fades away. The gale no longer blows. There is no chafing, no straining, no sweating. You are just riding. Speed is of no importance nor your destination nor your journey.
You inhabit and exist in a place beyond the road, beyond the ride. Your stomach tingles and head lightens. What is this feeling?
No fridge magnet quotation, no framed image, hell, no blog can capture this feeling. A moment to cherish, fleeting and mystifying for you cannot grasp what exists only in your mind. Yet this is bliss and you wish it could last for eternity.
The world is still the same when you climb off the bike. Life continues unaware of your rapture. The shed is still just a shed. You still need to wash the dishes or sit at your desk and stare at a computer screen. But for a moment it all feels worth it. Hour upon hour of the mundane for this brief spell of euphoria, of escape.
There is no knowing when an ordinary ride will transform into a majestic ride. You cannot plan for it. Such rides cannot be mapped. You cannot train for them. You cannot buy these rides and neither can you sign-up to them. Nor can you do them for charity. There is no relationship between your effort and happiness. It matters not where you are, who you’re with nor how you’re feeling.
Therein lies the beauty of the surprise. Do not question it. Enjoy the ride for soon the moment shall be gone, lost until the next time the ordinary astounds.
Epic. A much abused word that can often be applied to cycling. Riding through the night, or several nights without sleep. Biblical rain without your arm warmers. Riding further, higher or faster. Preferably on an old Raleigh Chopper or some equally unsuitable choice of novelty bicycle. These rides are epic because we endure. We survive.
I’ve suffered, that’s right, suffered, many such rides. Epic rides provide the satisfaction of achievement. The emotion is one of completing and experiencing rather than simply being. Grandiose rides cannot match the unbridled joy of a simple ride. They leave you unsatisfied because you can always ride quicker, higher or faster. You can always experience more.
Epic versus ordinary is the difference between the elation of drugs and happiness. One is fleeting and temporary, an unquenched thirst, a high from which you must come down only to seek more in a vain bid to end the disquiet. The latter is inexplicable, impossible to recreate, an instant captured forever not as a memory but as a feeling.
Why I ride
The epic and the ordinary both have their place.
Sometimes I ride to prove I still exist. Enter epic rides that confront and challenge existence. They look life in the eye and refuse to blink. The pain of enduring, the relief of finishing. You feel everything and see so much more. Breathtaking landscapes remind you of your insignificance.
Other times I ride to forget I exist. Not in some kind of nihilistic desire to destroy myself, no, this is more akin to meditation or listening to a great song. Lost in the briefest of moments, everything disappears.
Image: A sample from the amazing cycling posters of Bruce Doscher. Go buy now! I have one myself, not telling which one though.